Last winter, I started taking a ballet class. I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time—since I’m a theater director, expanding my movement vocabulary is an important way to keep developing in my art. Also, many of my favorite actors have a classical dance background, and I wanted to learn more about how they work. But babies and life intervened and I kept putting it off.
I’m so glad that I finally took the leap, as it were. It’s incredibly fun and challenging. I’m learning so much about how bodies work and move, so much new history and vocabulary, so many new ideas.
I also am such a nerdsnob. I only do exercise if there is a solid reason or a historical tradition. I mentor this kid who runs cross country, and one time, she told me that she had beaten her previous time on the mile (I forget what it was…seven minutes? Is that a reasonable estimate?). I literally said, “Were you being pursued by bears?” Because that’s what it would take for me to go out for a run. But I got super strong during the most intense phases of our home renovation—holding a sheet of drywall over your head with one hand while you use a heavy zip gun with the other is a good way to build muscle. We used to joke that we the money we spent at Lowe’s was our gym membership. And I went to jiu jitsu religiously for three years in college, because there was so much to learn about Japanese history, language, and the physics of small people knocking down larger people. So I don’t think I would stick with Zumba or Couch to 5K or CrossFit or any of that sort of thing. But ballet is so nerdy, it’s barely like working out. And like they say, the best exercise is the exercise you enjoy.
For the summer session, two of my good friends even took the class with me, so it was extra fun. In the winter/spring session, I was the oldest person in the class (including the teacher) by a solid decade. Having people closer to my age, who have had babies (and thus, bodies that have been through a lot) and a longer experience on earth, made the class more fun and more comfortable.
I took dance when I was very little, beginning around 3 or so, until maybe 5 or 6. My mom called it “Barbie ballet,” by which I imagine she meant that it was a bit overly focused on the costumes and the make up and the being on stage and being cute, and less on technique. I got bored with it pretty quickly. Maybe there was too much pageant and not enough nerd for me, even then.
My family thinks it’s hilarious. My dad got me a Ballerina Barbie for Christmas (apparently, he had to go to three toy stores to find it…). For my birthday, Silas got me a ballerina key chain, and he’s so happy every time he sees it.
I love it. Ballet is hard, guys. The balancing. The turning. The not looking suuuuuuper awkward.
And that was an unexpected benefit.
I try to rehearse at home for at least a little bit each day, in my fruitless quest to not look like a total moron in class. Usually, I do it when the kids were having rest time (because they are too distracting for me to focus on dance and not trip on them), but sometimes they catch a bit of it. I was trying to learn to do a pirouette and I kept falling out of it. Silas saw me doing this, and I explained to him what I was trying to do, and that it was difficult so I needed to practice. I showed him how I broke it down into small pieces and practiced them individually—first just the preparation, then a series of quarter turns, then half turns, then full pirouettes (and falling down half the time). He thought it was HILARIOUS and asked to see me do it again. When I succeeded, he was as excited as I was.
And then, the next day, I saw him sounding out words in a book. He is one of those people who wants to be magically good at everything the first time he tries. He’s been like this since he was a baby. If he can’t pick it up immediately, what’s the point? I think seeing me struggle with ballet helped him come to terms with the fact that you have to work for some things. I realized that everything he’s seen me do, from reading a book to driving a car to cooking dinner, looks effortless to him. I’ve been good at all of those things for as long as he’s known me. I’ve told him that I had to learn each of those things—and everything else—one step at a time, but I don’t think he believes me, or maybe he can’t picture it. Letting him see me work to learn something freed him to work to learn, too.
I overheard him telling his friend, “Your mom might be a pastor, but my mom’s a ballerina.“